President Directed Spending of Drug Money; Protests Grow
BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) _ With evidence mounting that he actively sought drug money for his election campaign, President Ernesto Samper suffered more defections while students, housewives and others joined a growing clamor for his resignation.
Samper’s former campaign treasurer Santiago Medina charged late Friday that the president personally gave the order to use nearly $400,000 of drug money for his 1994 election bid.
``The president not only knew _ but organized it directly,″ Medina said.
Medina said he had a document proving Samper met a Cali cartel representative in Ecuador less than a month after taking office. The prosecutor general’s office confirmed it received the document.
In a statement, the president’s office said it ``emphatically rejects the absurd declarations.″
Samper’s attorney was under military protection and planned to leave the country Friday after receiving death threats.
Colombia’s ambassador to Cuba, Ricardo Santamaria, joined the country’s top envoys to Venezuela, Argentina, the Netherlands and New Zealand in resigning to signal lost faith in Samper.
Gen. Ricardo Emilio Cifuentes, a brigade commander, said Friday he was requesting retirement because Samper ``no longer deserves support.″ It was the first defection in the military.
Three government ministers also have resigned in a show of no confidence.
But despite the defections and intensifying public animosity, Samper has said he will not resign.
Several thousand students marched noisily through the capital Friday in the biggest street protest against Samper since the allegations first surfaced days after June 1994 elections.
From their offices, workers showered confetti on the students, who marched to Congress, and cars honked their support. As riot police stood by, the students sat down with their backs to the Congress building. Stickers pasted to their shirts read ``Resign.″
The protesters sang the national anthem and waved a large banner that read, ``We want a country without corruption.″
In affluent northern Bogota, hundreds of women marched down a main avenue in a housewives’ protest against Samper. One woman held aloft a saucepan plastered with a ``Resign″ sticker.
Political demonstrations are rare in Colombia, though cynicism about government and its ability to protect its citizens from chronic violence runs deep.
The first suspicions about drug money in Samper’s campaign emerged days after he was elected with the release of audio tapes of drug kingpins discussing the donations.
Last year, Medina testified he collected about $6 million from cartel leaders with Samper’s knowledge. But his new disclosure suggests Samper took the lead in soliciting illegal donations.
Samper’s jailed former campaign chief, Fernando Botero, has also said Samper knew about the millions of dollars coming into the campaign from cocaine traffickers.
Medina said Botero also ordered him to solicit funds from drug traffickers. Botero, however, said he wasn’t involved in arranging the donations.
The president has suggested a national referendum to decide whether he stays in office, but critics say a vote would be costly and divide Colombia.